HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – Wayne County, Illinois once had a violent feud within its borders, as well as had three Medal of Honor recipients, and a suspected former veteran whose identity was contested.

Wayne County was established on March 26, 1819. The Secretary of State’s website says the county was named for Anthony Wayne, a surveyor and politician of Pennsylvania, a Major General during the American Revolution, Commander-in-Chief of the Army after General St. Clair, and successful Indian Fighter in the Northwest Territory. Officials note his military exploits and fiery personality during the American Revolution quickly earned him the nickname Mad Anthony Wayne. The Secretary of State says the present area, or parts of it, were formerly included in Edwards, Gallatin, Randolph, St. Clair and Knox of the Northwest Territory. The county seat is Fairfield.

According to the Wayne County Historical Society, the county is connected to quite a few well-known people. The organization says Wayne County is the birthplace of three men who received the Medal of Honor. They are U.S. Army Private George F. Berg, Private Harold A. Garman and Private First Class Kenneth M. Kays. The historical society also mentioned William Newby, a man who was severely injured during the Civil War. Officials say many believed him dead, but he may have been imprisoned at the Andersonville prison. Officials say afterwards, he apparently wandered under a different name until he was recognized in Illinois in 1890. The society says the man’s true identity—Newby the survivor or an imposter after pension payments—was intensely debated by locals and lawyers, before he ultimately failed to prove his identity and he was imprisoned.

The historical society says there was one incident that remains a defining part of local history. The society says there was a violent feud involving Charles “Blackie” Harris, who was involved in gangster-era activities during the 1920s-1940s, and the Shelton Brothers, who gained fame from their bootlegging activities and got the attention of Al Capone’s Chicago syndicate. Officials say Harris and the Shelton brothers were one-time allies, before they became involved in a feud. An individual associated with the historical society says the feud ended when the Sheltons moved to Florida in the 1950s and never came back, while Harris was eventually imprisioned.

The Fairfield Chamber of Commerce says the main industry of Wayne County is agriculture. However, the chamber’s website says the county’s largest, single employer is Fairfield Memorial Hospital. Other large businesses include Baldwin Technologies and Elastec, the school system and several oil companies.

According to the United States Census Bureau, as of the 2020 census, the population of Wayne County was 16,179.

This is the eighth of a weekly twenty-one-part series that will help educate about each of the counties in the Eyewitness News viewing area. Check in every Tuesday at 9 a.m. for the next one! Last week’s story can be found here.